Virtual reality headset that you control with your eyes begins taking pre-orders

FOVE, the first VR headset that tracks your eyes as well as your head, has been made available to pre-order.

Headsets will begin shipping to original Kickstarter backers by the end of 2016, while all other preorders will begin shipping early next year.

FOVE is able to track eye movement by virtue of custom small form-factor infrared sensors inside the headset. These sensors bounce light off the retina to register how the eyes are angled.

Users can then control games and apps using eye movements, and virtual characters are capable of perceiving users’ gaze.

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FOVE is targeting the entertainment, education, gaming and medical industries with its gaze control in virtual reality interfaces. The technology has already enable a patient with muscular dystrophy to play a piano with his eyes.

“Eye-tracking is really critical for VR control,” said Yuka Kojima, CEO of Fove, in an interview with GamesBeat. “For me, it’s so natural. This is for early adopters now. But soon we think it will be a world standard.”

To give FOVE an initial boost it is being made available with a $50 discount for one week only, so it is available for $549.

Its makers have also partnered with 7,000 internet cafes in Japan and Korea. Through this partnership FOVE already has access to 25 million monthly users.

Images courtesy of FOVE

Images courtesy of FOVE

The headset has a OLED screen (2560 x 1440), with a frame rate of 70 frames per second. It has a 100-degree field-of-view.

It uses a 120 FPS infrared eye-tracking system and two cameras, and has HDMI, USB 3.0, and USB 2.0 connectors. The headset connects to a Windows PC, and it requires a system with an Intel Core i5-4590 or better and 8GB of memory.

FOVE also requires a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970,  AMD R9 290 or greater GPU.

In terms of content 250-plus Steam VR titles are compatible with the device and FOVE have partnered with OSVR to make more titles available.

Live demos of the headset, including “Project Falcon,” a first-person rail-shooter developed in partnership with creative production company, Rewind, will be held at the VRDC event in San Francisco.

Is Facebook killing Oculus?

Oculus’ recent developer conference held considerable promises for what’s coming, but raised numerous concerns about the future of a company that it’s fair to say kicked off the commercial VR movement.

While Oculus seems to have stalled, its competitors are quickly coming out with their own iterations that may well knock it out of the market.

One of the big takeaways from the conference was the confirmation of the Touch controllers’ price, a steep $200. Add this to the $600 price tag on the Rift itself and the fact that the computer you’ll need to properly run the system is going to have to be somewhat of a leviathan, and Oculus is now looking to be a very hefty investment.

And while Oculus’ biggest competitor, the HTC Vive, is hardly cheaper, it offers an arguably higher quality of experience that has benefited from a far stronger push towards launch. Additionally, while you will shell out $799 for the Vive, you’re getting every part of the device with that, controllers and all. By contrast, if you want your Oculus to achieve the Vive’s room-scale VR you’re going to have to shell out a further $80 for the extra sensors required, on top of the Touch controllers.

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Outside of the PC space, Sony is about to launch Playstation VR. And while the quality of the device is lower than that of Oculus or Vive, due to the limitations imposed by using console rather than PC, the fact is that Sony is offering up a much more affordable version of virtual reality could very easily position them as the mainstream entry point for the technology.

Virtual reality is likely to launch mostly to a niche of enthusiasts but even those in the field may baulk at the difference in price across the various offerings, despite Mark Zuckerberg’s assurance that they are in fact working on an affordable version.

“We believe that there is a sweet spot – a standalone virtual reality product that is high quality, that is affordable, and you can bring with you out into the world,” he said. “It’s still early, so I don’t want to get your hopes up too much.”

Images courtesy of Oculus

Images courtesy of Oculus

Aside from the price, which is admittedly going to be high across the board in the current PC field, a real obstacle that Oculus faces going forwards is image.

Facebook are a solid business backing for the company in terms of having the money to see through the early sales hits that VR is likely to take, but the association with the company may actually be casting Oculus in a light that doesn’t gel with the enthusiast market that will be the first to engage with virtual reality.

With the Vive positioning itself alongside Valve and offering higher quality for the money invested, as well as the console space opening up with virtual reality offerings that provide a cheaper entry point, Oculus is starting to look like it may have misjudged the market that it in many ways created.

If anyone has the financial wherewithal to get through the rough early days that virtual reality is likely to face its Facebook, the question is whether they’ve already gone so far that the long-term isn’t looking much better for them.

“Whoever gets the largest commitment to the best content is likely to garner the lion’s share of early adopter purchases, but mainstream adoption and profitability could still be a long way off,” wrote Avi Greengart, research director of consumer platforms and devices at Current Analysis, in a report earlier this year.

“Oculus should stress to developers that no matter who gets the best start, Facebook gives it the resources to survive long enough to succeed.”